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Zoethe

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Huh? [May. 5th, 2007|09:22 am]
Zoethe
[Current Mood |aggravatedaggravated]

And now for today's "what the frell?" moment:

I ordered a book from Barnes & Noble (because I had a B&N gift certificate) on Thursday. Today I decided to check the tracking number they gave me.

Apparently, Miss Cleo works for bn.com. Because they shipped my item two weeks before I knew I wanted it. However, her ESP is a bit faulty, since it was shipped to Coatesville, PA. The tracking number cheerily informed me that my item had been delivered on my birthday. To someone entirely not me.

Naturally, I was not appeased by this. So I called their customer service department. After an admirably short wrestling match with the automated system, I found myself on the line with a very pleasant Real Live Human Being. Who assured me that my order had just shipped on Thursday and was headed toward the right address.

The reason for the misunderstanding? They had reused a UPS tracking number.

Reused a UPS tracking number?!

Yes, he assured me. This is happening fairly often. He's had three customers calling about it in the last week.

What. The fuck.

UPS tracking numbers are 16 digits long. That alone gives them one shy of a quintillion tracking numbers to generate. But on top of that, at least three of those digits are letters rather than numbers, meaning there are 26 possible figures in those spaces, rather than 9.

I don't even know how to do the math on how many possible tracking numbers that is. But it's a shitload.

So why would they need to be recycling numbers? And, even more pressing to me, even if they could go through a shitloadillion tracking numbers, why would they need to recycle a number FROM LAST MONTH? Surely they could wait a year, clear the old tracking information out of the system, and not be cheerily informing me that my book was delivered to Coatsville, PA before I even knew that such a title existed!

I couldn't get mad, because the customer service rep completely agreed with me. I am left merely to boggle at the absurdity of it all.
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 01:56 pm (UTC)
Cute pic! I did smile.

I love kitties. It pains me that I am deathly allergic to them.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-12-03 04:47 pm (UTC)

Here's the poop on the tracking number

There are only 8 digits in that 16 digit tracking number that are available for "serial number" purposes. That gives 9,999,999 numbers per year that a company can use with their shipper number. The other numbers/letters in the tracking number are for "1Z" - all packages start with that, the 6 digit shipper number and two numbers for the service code (Next Day Air, Second Day Air etc.). The company that is doing the shipping generates the numbers so they are responsible for their labels - not UPS.

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[User Picture]From: lacey
2007-05-05 01:55 pm (UTC)
Wow. I just knew they'd never have to reuse any of those. It seems ridiculous. WTF, to be sure!
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2007-05-05 01:58 pm (UTC)
Who generates the numbers? UPS or B&N?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 02:01 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't know. I think UPS has to; it's their tracking system, and every UPS shipping system that I've seen has originated with their numbers.

Prietas would know, since shipping is her life. Maybe she'll see this comment and respond!
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[User Picture]From: ronin_kakuhito
2007-05-05 02:26 pm (UTC)
So, assuming that there are 10 possible digits (0-9) for each number space and each letter space can only be letters so 26 digits for each letter space, that gives us:
10^13 * 26^3 or 10000000000000 * 17576 0r 175,760,000,000,000,000 or 175.76 quadrillion possible codes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 02:41 pm (UTC)
Which should be enough to be getting on with!
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[User Picture]From: ronin_kakuhito
2007-05-05 03:02 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Though if they are using a legacy computer to generate them, there may not be anything near that many combinations that can actually occur. Years and years ago, I wrote a program on my c64 that was supposed to make a black and white star field on the monitor. If it let it run, it made lines of clusters of dots instead because the randomizer was anything but.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 10:51 pm (UTC)
It's UPS, dude. I can't imagine that they are running on crap computers.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 02:42 pm (UTC)
(And, color me impressed.)
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[User Picture]From: ithildae
2007-05-05 03:10 pm (UTC)
That is assuming that the digits and letters have no meaning beyond place holders. If combinations are used to represent UPS regions, both delivery and destination, or to represent customer, there may be far fewer numbers available than that.
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[User Picture]From: littlebuhnee
2007-05-05 03:17 pm (UTC)
Apparently, they don't work that way. There's a method to the madness. :)
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[User Picture]From: ronin_kakuhito
2007-05-05 03:28 pm (UTC)
There still should be 10,000,000 unique package numbers per shipper or 78,364,164,096 (36^7) if the package identifier number is alphanumeric, which since amazon and b&n and several others could probably rip through a 10 million digit log in a very short time, it should probably be.
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[User Picture]From: stealingbabies
2007-05-05 02:42 pm (UTC)
I had that happen with USPS one time, too. >< So annoying, since all I wanted to find out was whether it had been shipped or not, and it would only tell me that a package had been delivered months prior across the country from me.

And I think it is UPS that generates them. At the store I work at, we have a little machine that prints the labels off, but the computer it's hooked up to is a UPS computer that's tied into UPS, not our store. That and, as a store, we'd have no idea what numbers had been used or not, same with bn.com. No idea why UPS would do something so ineffective, since they're normally really awesome.
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[User Picture]From: littlebuhnee
2007-05-05 03:12 pm (UTC)
I've had this happen to me twice in the last month (I believe with Amazon). I had items that were showing as being shipped and delivered in 2005, with new shipping info tacked on below that.

But yeah, recycling numbers from last month seems completely bizarre.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 10:52 pm (UTC)
And no new info.
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[User Picture]From: rgrecar
2007-05-05 03:19 pm (UTC)
It is really stupid, and any explanation doesn't make it any less stupid, but here's my theory. I've been the shipping manager at my company for a while using UPS.

First the number system. They all start out 1Z. The next set of six numbers and letters is to identify the shipper and is their UPS Worldship account number, like 8R63U4. Then there are two more numbers to identify the type of shippment. Ground, next day, two day with saturday delivery, etc. So for ground 03. Eight more to go! The next seven are your actual package number. The last number is the check digit to verify the number is legitimate. Like how ISBN numbers have the check at the end. Now that's still a hell of a lot of packages per shipper account, and there is no way they would have to reuse a number. But it's not a human who decides on the number, a human just wrote the software.

The software: UPS Worldship 9.0 is the most recent edition. It was supposed to come out in January to kick of the new year. Actually it did come out. Everyone got a new CD saying "Please install your new UPS Worldship software." I'm sure most shippers did. Then about 3 weeks later we start getting notifications to not install it due to problems with the software and to wait for a new disk to be issued. My company hadn't installed it, so I don't know what the problems were, but I'm sure other companies did and maybe didn't get the message or pay attention and have kept using it. Anyway, the new software came out finally in March. Who installed it, who didn't? Who knows. We didn't install it till about 2 weeks ago. I'm sure with either the new or the old edition, it hasn't taken into account any tracking numbers that were issued before it was installed. Just my guess since obviously UPS can't get it together on the technology side of things. (Or the care of your packages, but that's another story in and of itself.)

Doesn't make anything better but at least you know for certain who's to blame. What can brown not do right for you?
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[User Picture]From: ronin_kakuhito
2007-05-05 03:38 pm (UTC)
So the seven digit piece is an actual number, not an alphanumeric string? That means a given account is only useful, if everything works right, for the first ten million packages. Do you know if package numbers are incremental or random?
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[User Picture]From: rgrecar
2007-05-05 08:17 pm (UTC)
Looking back at the tracking numbers for past days' shipments they certainly are not in sequence.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 10:57 pm (UTC)
[whimper] I just want my package....
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2007-05-09 06:35 pm (UTC)
Always easier to read the comments than to look through my thousands of bookmarks to find exactly the same info. ;-)

It's still enough numbers that one should never, ever have to reuse one within the same month, and rarely within the same year. And larger customers often have several account numbers for different physical locations (how this works for online orders, I have no idea, but I've seen different codes on different Amazon orders).
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[User Picture]From: suzieboz
2007-05-05 03:36 pm (UTC)
When I order from BN 75% of the time it is misrouted through NJ to get to CT. It ships from NYC. So it goes west, turns around, comes back through NY and then to CT. When I asked them about this the reply was "well, there's an Orange, NJ too you know, we do a lot more business with that area than the Orange, CT shipping location".

Okey doke then. There's also a Springfield in almost every state, but I don't think that Homer Simpson has rights to my Star Wars tome. My books vacation more than I do it seems.

And for the record - JC Penney ALWAYS uses recycled tracking numbers. Every order I have shipped to Miami in 2004 according to UPS. I shit you not.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 10:58 pm (UTC)
That cracks me up.
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From: akdidge
2007-05-05 03:46 pm (UTC)
Just a thought but likely the 16 digit code is broken into several defining number codes to which they can track things. Working for the local government here I can tell you that we use a tracking code that is 10 digits long; the first four numbers indicate the program number, the second two digits dictate the year, the space after that is either a "0" or a "G" to indicate if it is not a grant, or is a grant, and the last three are the actual tracking number itself.

My guess is that B&N is similar, and that there is a method to their madness. Even if it should be clearly defined better.

Just thought I'd help.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 10:59 pm (UTC)
Everyone's reality is getting in the way of my rant!

;-)
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[User Picture]From: mamaursula
2007-05-05 04:23 pm (UTC)
Perhaps they are attempting some kind of scam? B&N contacts UPS and tells them they shipped it improperly and have to resend it at a cost to UPS?

Or, maybe it's a cost savings effort. They can't afford the mathematicians to program their computers, so they just have chimps with label makers?

I can make up more implausible reasons if you like, I'm on a roll.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 11:00 pm (UTC)
Entertaining, but people seem to be coming up with valid ones.

What fun is that?!
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[User Picture]From: mamaursula
2007-05-05 11:09 pm (UTC)
Some people have a lot of nerve!
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[User Picture]From: kathrynrose
2007-05-05 07:49 pm (UTC)
I must find an opportunity in the near future to use the word shitloadillion.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-05 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you. It amused me as well.
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[User Picture]From: sylphon
2007-05-05 11:06 pm (UTC)
I've had that happen through both B&N and Amazon before. I'll go to check my tracking number only to find it was delivered weeks before in a state far far away. Always weird!
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From: wildcelticrose
2007-05-05 11:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, they started doing that to us (the company I work for who is not a small online presence by any means) last holiday.

It was completely freaking out our customers. (I got pulled from International duties to CS duties a lot during this time frame)

They didn't know they had to click on the "more info" button, to see the 2nd time the number was used.

What a pain in the ass!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-06 12:36 pm (UTC)
I checked - mine doesn't have a "more info" button. So weird.
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[User Picture]From: conuly
2007-05-06 01:17 am (UTC)
At least 186,384,680,979,848 options, but I may have lost track of the calculations. It may actually be as many as 40,948,714,112,726,056 options.

In case you were curious.
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[User Picture]From: conuly
2007-05-06 04:07 am (UTC)
Wait. I'm an idiot. Why did I multiply 13s over and over again?

Gah.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2007-05-06 06:21 am (UTC)
Which would seem to be enough to be getting on with, don't you think?
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